Hello New York Giant fans, hope you're ready for some pre-season player profiling! Today's subject concerns a position many are already concerned about: Linebacker. Many ESPN experts (try saying that with a straight face) believe that one of the Giants weakest positions is Linebacker. But they fail to take into account the youth and potential that this group possesses. Yeah yeah yeah I know "youth" and "potential" get thrown around a lot without people really looking at the players or WHY they have potential and WHAT this potential can be used for. Well lets have a look at that shall we? Today we are going to take a look at Giants Linebacker Mark Herzlich.
Look at the man. He's a scary guy huh? Kinda looks like this guy
Wouldn't want that coming at you full speed. But anyway before we get started we need to do a little background on Mark, even though most of us know the story. Mark Herzlich was a dominate Linebacker at Boston College, doing work at both SAM and MIKE positions. He played from 2006 to 2010, missing his 2009 season due to Ewing's sarcoma, which is a rare bone cancer. While many athletes would probably never play again, Herzlich persevered and overcame this gigantic obstacle. Now I know that everyone loves a feel good story, and this one is perhaps the best feel good story in the NFL, BUT that isn't what this is about. This is about showing people why Herzlich is a future starter and potential star for the New York Giants. And trust me, he really is.
During his time in college Mark Herlich was one of the most dominate players in the NCAA. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award, a multiple time All American, 3 time ACC player of the week award winner, 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, 2010 Rudy Award winner, and 2010 ACC Brian Piccolo Award winner. Impressive huh? Ask anyone who has followed the draft for a while (Invictus, Raptor, Rosch, ct17 among others) and they'll tell you that Herzlich could have went anywhere between Top 5 and Top 15 in the 2008 NFL Draft, right before his cancer struck. His 2008 numbers read as followed: 110 tackles (led his team) with 81 being solo, six interceptions along with eight more passes broken up (this from the Linebacker position mind you, so yes he can cover), and two of those interceptions returned for Touchdowns. My point is this guy was a huge force in the NCAA. He dominated the competition. But many skeptics point out the cancer, and yes it was a huge blow. Lets look at the details
Ewing's sarcoma is a very rare form of bone cancer and at first, football for Herzlich at any level was pretty much a longer shot than the Browns winning the Superbowl any time soon. The first thing doctors wanted to do was make sure the cancer wasn't spreading to the rest of his body. If it did, there was a good chance it could kill him. Yeah. Kill him. This was nowhere near a walk in the park for Herzlich or his family. Once they realized the cancer was isolated in his leg, they had to watch and see if there was any cancer seeping out of any small fracture in his leg. If it was seeping out, his leg would have to be amputated immediately. What appeared to be the best option, and I use the word best even though this option isn't very cheerful either, was to remove the part of his leg that contained cancer and put him in a cast for six months. This would mean he would never run again. But that's not how things turned out for Herzlich. Herzlich was responding extremely well to intense bouts of radiation and chemotherapy and was given the option to forgo surgery and continue treatment. This meaning he would have a chance of playing football again, but the risk of cancer returning was much higher. Herzlich went with the option to keep football in his future and continued treatment. On September 29th 2009, Mark Herzlich announced that he was cancer free. He sat out for all the 2009 season and returned to the field for BC in 2010. Now honestly after all he went through, nobody could expect him to really be any kind of force on the field, right? Wrong. Lets look at his stats in 2010, a year after he was declared cancer free.
The Year After
Now obviously Herzlich was not the player he once was, especially if you look at his 2008 season. It'd be crazy to expect that from the guy. In fact many people weren't expecting much from Herzlich. But he trained harder than ever and was STILL able to make an impact for the BC Eagles. He started 13 games, which was a testament to his health and recovery process. That in and of itself was more than what some people thought he would accomplish. But he didn't just take up space on the field. He had 65 tackles, 50 were solo, was tied for first on the team with two forced fumbles, and was second on the BC roster with four interceptions and four passes broken up. Now these aren't the numbers of a Top 5 prospect, I get that, but he was still making plays on the field. He was not a slouch and he was only ONE YEAR coming back from cancer. I'm sorry but anyone coming back from cancer can't be 100% healthy no matter which way you slice it. So for him to still be making plays despite not being 100% has to tell you something right there. Yet despite playing well and seeming to be healthy, he was wasn't drafted by any NFL team.
Why He Dropped
Mark Herzlich went undrafted as pretty much all Giants fans know. Now the obvious reason is cancer. That word scared a lot of GM's and owners away before they even looked at the guy. Cancer is a nasty word, but for this guy to be ignored by so many teams is kind of a crime. That Mark Herzlich went undrafted is kind of a crime. And yes I know that the Giants were one of those 32 teams that did not draft Herzlich. The only reason Mark Herzlich did not get drafted is because teams feared that the cancer would come back and they would be out a draft pick. But honestly that's a moronic train of thought. How much production do most GM's and coaches get out of their mid to late round picks? Usually not much. Why not take a chance on a guy who was a Top 5-15 prospect two years previous? Either way I digress. Herzlich didn't blow people away at the NFL Combine, which is probably a secondary reason he went undrafted. He put up 29 reps on the bench press, which did seem impressive, but he ran a 4.96 on his 40 yard dash, which was not impressive.
Why He Can Succeed As a Giant
Now this is the section that this article is really all about. Most of you guys knew the history of Herzlich, but I don't think everyone is sold on him having the ability to be a productive player on our defense.
First of all, Mark Herzlich can make it on our defense as a linebacker (MIKE in particular) because he has good coverage ability. Like the stats say above, in 2008 he had 6 interceptions and in 2010 he had four. Mark understands coverage assignments and appears to have the instincts and athletic ability to make plays in the passing game. Now I believe that Herzlich will be able to comprehend and execute the coverages that Perry Fewell's defense contains. In Fewell's version of the Tampa 2, the MIKE will usually end up covering TE's and RB's, but may end up taking on a WR if they come over the middle or a double coverage is called.
Secondly Mark Herzlich is proven against the run. He knows how to tackle and has a nose for the ball. While cancer may have taken away a bit of his speed, it was unable to get rid of the instincts that some football players are naturally born with. These instincts can help make up for a lack of speed because they will put Herzlich in the right place at the right time.
Another reason I believe Herzlich has a place on this defense is because he was able to play two different LB spots at BC. Mark played both MIKE and SAM, which coincidentally is where we need Linebackers the most. I'd prefer to see Herz play MIKE because of his coverage skills, but at the same time Herz really thrived in playing the SAM position at BC. If Herzlich were to play SAM for us I would hope he could learn a few pass rush moves, even though our D-Line has most of that covered already.
Here are two bits of film from Herzlich's 2010 campaign. Now while I can't break down film like SOME people can on this site, I'll give you a few of my opinions before you watch it. He's playing SAM in both videos.
In both videos I will admit that Herz looks a little slow. Now he's right off cancer and has been out of football for a year, but I won't make excuses. He's on the field and if you take away the story and background, the bottom line is he's a bit slow.
Now a few times due to this slowness, a guy will get by him in coverage. I saw this more in the Syracuse video than the Duke video.
While a WR may get by him once or twice, you have to admire Herz's ability in coverage. His interception in the Syracuse video and his ability to cover against Duke's spread in the second video is are the reasons I really think that Herz has a place on this team. In a passing league it is such a plus to have a Linebacker that won't be a liability in coverage. Jon Goff wasn't the best in coverage and despite his interception in the Superbowl, neither was Chase Blackburn. That is a huge advantage that Mark has over any other MIKE/SAM on the roster. But now the videos.
All in all I think that Mark Herzlich has the potential to be one of the best Giants Linebackers in quite some time. He also has a real shot of being a starter this year. Kiwi is the only real SAM we have right now and if he has to go back to the D-Line due to depth issues then we could see Herz starting there. Also there are depth problems at the MIKE spot, which is where I'd like to see Herz start. There is Blackburn, but come on guys, he's an average player at best. Yes I love Blackburn, but if you held a gun to my head and asked me who the better player was, I'd go with Herzlich. Hell you don't even have to hold a gun to my head for me to pick Herzlich. There are whispers of Keith Rivers making the start at MIKE, but he's never played MIKE before and he's pretty much just as unproven as Herzlich is.
Well I hope you guys liked the post, I might try to do more of these if you guys seem to like this one and I have the time.